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Updated 30 June 2021

As per the WHO’s weekly epidemiological update, the Delta variant first discovered in India has been detected in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. With the Delta variant being the “most transmissible” of the variants identified so far, it is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations as reported by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

COVID-19 infection cases are still on the rise in Saudi Arabia with a seven-day average of 1,318 new infections per day. Keep reading to learn more about the Delta variant in the Saudi Arabia.

What is the Delta variant – B.1.617.2?

The Delta variant, first detected in India around late 2020,  has now been reported in 85 countries around the world, including the UAE as updated by the WHO. This variant, also known as B.1.617.2, has been described as a ‘double mutant’. This term is used to refer to two main mutations E484Q and L452R, in spike proteins. 

The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells. Double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein might increase risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system. 

The variant, which was earlier classifies as a “variant of interest” has now been announced to be a “variant of concern” by the WHO. A mutation is elevated from a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern” (VOC) when it shows evidence of fulfilling at least one of several criteria, including easy transmission, more severe illness, reduced neutralization by antibodies or reduced effectiveness of treatment and vaccines.

Delta plus variant

The Delta Plus variant was formed due to a mutation in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant. Amid a rise in Delta Plus variant cases of COVID-19 in India, the Centre has Delta Plus, as a variant of concern (VOC).

The Delta Plus variant (B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1) is characterized by the K417N mutation in spike protein. The Delta plus variant spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, which is a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralize the virus.


What are the common symptoms of the Delta variant?

The symptoms caused by the delta variant are unlike the ‘original’ COVID symptoms. There have been reports suggesting the presence of headache followed by sore throat, runny nose and fever. Symptoms such as cough and loss of smell are much rarer now.

As for the general symptoms of COVID-19 infection, the Ministry of Health states that they may include fever, cough, shortness of breath and sometimes develops into pneumonia.

It may cause severe complications in persons with immunodeficiency, the elderly and persons with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and lung diseases. If you have any of these symptoms call the 937 Service Center. 


What are the risks associated with the Delta strain?

The delta and delta plus variants are concerning due to their increased transmission rates. But apart from them being extraordinarily contagious, preliminary studies have shown that these variants of concern may even expose patients to the risk of developing other long-term health problems. This is even more true in those who are yet to be vaccinated or only partially vaccinated.  


Delta variant in Saudi Arabia

There are unfortunately no data available as of yet regarding the spread of the Delta variant in Saudi Arabia. We do know that the Delta variant has indeed been detected within Saudi Arabia and health experts are strongly urging all citizens and residents to get themselves fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

No efforts have been spared in advancing Saudi Arabia’s vaccination drive in the country’s bid to achieve herd immunity. As of 30 June, Saudi Arabia has administered at least 17,487,842 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs 2 doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 25.5 percent of the country’s population.   


Are vaccines effective against this double-variant?

Saudi Arabia has approved three vaccines namely, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna.

Pfizer/BioNTech: A study by researchers from the University of Texas together with Pfizer and BioNtech shows that antibodies elicited by the vaccine are able to neutralize Delta, albeit at reduced strength. Alon Rappaport, Pfizer’s medical director, has also said that the data from labs and places where the Delta variant has spread vastly demonstrate an efficacy of around 90 percent in preventing the coronavirus disease.

Oxford/AstraZeneca: Real-world data from England’s Public Health Authority shows that two doses of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca are 92 percent effective against hospitalization due to the Delta variant and showed no deaths among those vaccinated. This claim is supported by recent data showing a strong T-cell response induced by AstraZeneca (Covishield) which should correlate with high and durable protection.

Moderna: The Moderna vaccine is reported to have shown promise against the Delta variant based on a lab study. The lab study was conducted on blood serum from eight participants obtained one week after they received the second dose of the mRNA -1273 vaccine. Although a modest decrease in response compared to the original strain was observed, the Moderna vaccine was far more effective in producing antibodies against the Delta variant than it was against the Beta variant.


How to stay safe?

The available data has so far shown that getting yourself fully vaccinated is still the most reliable way of avoiding or transmitting all COVID strains including the Delta strain.

But even after inoculation, you must still adhere to the prevailing health and safety guidelines by always wearing a properly fitting mask covering your nose and mouth when you’re in a public place. Also, the regular use of hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes is essential. Avoid crowded areas, always observe social distancing, and opt for digital payments whenever possible.